When Michael_Levine makes a call, it's not the kind that most reporters let slip into voice mail. That's because he's the powerhouse Los Angeles PR executive behind press campaigns for such celebrities as Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Charlton Heston, Jon Voight, Tom Petty, David Bowie and Michael J. Fox, to name a few. Reporters know that it's tit for-tat in this business - you pick up Levine's calls and when you really need a scoop, he'll pick up yours. That's the way it works in this business of promotion; it's based on markers, favors and protocol.
So what happens when you don't have the kind of clout it takes to call in a marker, or even get some reporter in a two-horse town to return your phone calls? Don't feel bad; you fall into the category of 99.9 percent of the people trying to garner a reputation via the press. Levine saw the need to educate the masses and authored a stack of books on the subject, his most successful being Guerrilla PR: How You Can Wage An Effective Publicity Campaign - Without Going Broke. This book has been used throughout the world by individuals and corporations to get their words out and is required reading at America's top universities. Frankly, you don't need to be a Michael Levine to get an editor to pick up your calls, but it does help to pick up a few of his tips before even making that call.
"First of all, I'm going to remind our Toastmasters friends of the simple but profound adage, 'Dog bites man - no news. Man bites dog - news,"' says Levine of getting the attention of the local press to promote Toastmasters events. He should know. Twenty years ago, he founded Levine Communications Office in Los Angeles. It is now one of the most prominent PR firms in the United States, with offices in New York, Las Vegas, Washington D.C. and London. If you do not make your Toastmasters events unique, then you shouldn't get your news. If, on the other hand, you create something new, unique, special, passionate, interesting and connected to the current news, then you have a good chance at getting publicity," he says.
Levine points out that you need only give the media what they want. Perhaps this step should be called "man bites press" (and gets rewarded! Give that reporter a biscuit!). "The secret of media is that they're silently begging to be led, they're starving for good news," says Levine about the lure. "In every business relationship there's a buyer and a seller. In this case, Toastmasters clubs are the seller and the media is the buyer. You have to understand that sellers work for buyers. The first rule of that relationship is to find out what the buyer wants. If you are trying to sell someone something, wouldn't it be a good idea to find out what they want?"
"The second rule is to get it to them," explains Levine about something that he has evolved from a technique into an art form. "So the trick is to find out what the media wants in your community and to give it to them. The problem with this is that everyone thinks the media is going to be interested in their stuff - and they're not. And how to do that best is to connect whatever your organization is doing to contemporary news. For instance let's say a Toastmasters club in [California's] Silicon Valley has decided to tie in a local event with national news by creating a symposium on Colin Powell's recent speech for the United Nations. If Toastmasters were to give Powell a grade and create a symposium and send the president of Toastmasters out to Silicon Valley - that is the kind of event that ties it all in for the media."
Levine, who measures his words carefully but with zero hesitation, comes up effortlessly with yet another Toastmasters example: "In the month of February there are two principal holidays in contemporary America: Valentine's Day and President's Day. Given enough advance time to send a press release to local news, the media might be interested in an event where a Toastmasters club reviews in great detail Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The whole point is to connect the dots to the current news."
Levine points out that one must look at the product or service as the gift, and the wrapping paper as what ties it into the current news, study or event. And the fancier and more professional the wrapping paper, the better. You can bet that Levine uses those little blue boxes that make every woman's anticipation level increase tenfold as an example. "The Tiffany Theory says that if I gave you a present in a Tiffany's box, in your mind the gift would have a higher perceived value than if I gave it to you in no box, or a box with less prestige. That's true not because you're a jackass or a psychological fool, but because you and I and everyone you know lives in a culture in which we gift-wrap everything. We gift-wrap everything - our politicians, our corporate heads, our TV stars and even our toilet paper."
When Levine came out 11 years ago with the book Guerrilla PR, he empowered small businesses and individuals with the street savvy to wage major full-court press blitzes with success. His new book, Guerrilla PR: Wired, is the evolution of that savvy transferred into the world of the Internet.
Marketing yourself on the Internet is tough, especially if you want to do it right, Levine points out. Remember that those things you post on the Web will be remembered for name within quote marks to get more direct hits and come up with a list of your affiliations, articles about you - and complaints about your marketing techniques. And if you've made a Web site, remember that information is cataloged on a weekly basis by www.archive.org, a nonprofit organization that archives the entire Internet every few weeks and allows people to go back in the Way Back Machine to see the different iterations of your Web site. Hot tip: If you've ever had a terrible Web site, you should go there and request that your URL be deleted. The Internet is archived in many ways, and even stored by Google, so even if your site had been pulled down, it may still be accessible, and it's not very easy to delete anything on the Web.
Levine says that the Tiffany Theory is even more applied when marketing yourself on the Internet. "It's always important to keep the information true," Levine warns, because credibility is one of the few things in any business that must be protected. "But unlike the information in newspapers and magazines, the data you provide on the Web site is yours, and you provide the Tiffany paper. Use photographs, charts, quizzes and prizes, if you can, to keep surfers' interest alive on your site. And remember to wrap every fact in a nice piece of Tiffany wrap."
One of the things Levine points out is that in order to keep your or your company's credibility on the Web, you must know the resource you're trying to tap into - and respect its rules accordingly. Nothing is worse than spam. Although you may have a stack of e-mail addresses from your clients, it would be respectful to first send out an email announcing an online newsletter and secondly, asking them to reply if they wish to be on the list to receive updates (people hate asking to be removed from a list).
In a list of Levine's Lessons (No. 4) for guerrilla's in Guerrilla PR: Wired, the etiquette for online marketing is as follows: Know the medium you're dealing with. If you don't know that advertising in newsgroups and on bulletin boards is not permitted and can hurt your business, you made a critical error in your plan. Time, money and effort spent in preparation should begin with an examination of the medium you're about to enter.
Levine also makes a humorous point about cold-calling an editor:
Remember you're calling the person on a professional basis; not asking this person out on a date. This is part of the job for both of you, and if you treat it this way, your stress level will drop. If that's not enough to calm you, ask yourself, "What's going to happen if I they say no?" Will You lose your job? Your car? Your family? Will people turn their heads from you in the street? No! If this editor says no, you simply call the next editor.
Levine goes through a great many scenarios of what could happen if you call an editor and he or she actually decides to talk with you. Perhaps people are so focused on the rejection that they forget about the opportunities for success. When this does occur Levine suggests being ready with a pitch geared toward what that particular editor or writer covers. So, before you call, make sure you've read the publication, find out who its target readers are and target appropriately. Putting yourself out there can be scary, but the rewards are great.
What about those who already are successful? Do you still need to market when your speaking and consulting schedules are booked for the next six months? "Does CocaCola say, 'We're the most famous brand, let's stop advertising?' No. Do you take your foot off of the gas when you're going down the freeway at 60 miles per hour? No. There's a big correlation between credibility and visibility. Keeping your image up is important if you want to win."
And that last statement holds a lot of weight coming from one of the most visible and successful PR agents in the world. But what is winning to a man of Levine's stature?
"What is winning?" Levine paused only for a short moment. "It really is a two-part question. Personally and professionally - what is it in life that you most want? And what are you willing to give up to get it? The price of owning Nike shoes is more expensive than owning nice sneakers. Being Michael Jordan is much, much, much, much more exhausting than being just a good basketball player. Most people are not willing to pay the price, and the people who are even worse are the ones who deny that you do have to pay a price. We're looking at the most immature generation in the history of humanity in which people believe that you can get something for nothing. It's totally depressing, but it's true."